For the second year, the Texas Medical Center Innovation and BioInnovation Institute have teamed up to accelerate a handful of Danish companies. Photo courtesy of TMC

A new cohort of scientists from the Texas-Denmark BioBridge has been selected to join a Texas Medical Center Accelerator, joining forces with some of Houston’s best advisers and mentors.

This is the second year that four Danish companies have been chosen to join a special TMC Innovation Accelerator program with plans to bring their technologies to the American market. In a joint press release, the Texas Medical Center (TMC) and the BioInnovation Institute (BII), announced that the participants are scheduled to arrive in Houston on May 13 for their first session, in which they’ll work on US customer validation. After that, they’ll take part in the full program, which will allow the founders to make their plans for strategic development over the course of six months.

Just as the TMC Innovation Factory offers help for founders who have set their sights on success in the US market, the Danish BioInnovation Institute provides life science startups with the connections, infrastructure and financial support necessary to bring their ideas to the public.

The companies selected include:

  • Alba Health is pioneering a gut microbiome test for young children that’s informed by AI.
  • AMPA Medical has created InterPoc, a more discrete alternative to types of stoma bags currently available for ileostomy patients.
  • Droplet IV is a medical device that automatically flushes IV lines, reducing waste and making nurses’ jobs easier.
  • Metsystem is a cancer metastasis platform aimed at predicting what the most effective cancer drug is for each patient.

“We are excited to welcome these startups to TMC as Danish companies are making significant strides in drug discovery and health tech developments” says Devin Dunn, head of the accelerator for Health Tech, in the release. “As they look to expand into the US market, the collaborative environment fostered by our dedicated team, programs, and clinical community will help them advance their innovations, foster research collaborations, and further develop their technologies here in Houston.”

The program for the accelerator is based on the successes of the TMC Innovation (TMCi) Health Tech Accelerator program. The TMC Denmark BioBridge was established in 2019 as a collaboration between TMC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

Calling all biotechnology startups. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organization launches virtual accelerator, seeks 10 biotech startups

calling for applicants

A Houston organization — freshly funded by a $700,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “Build to Scale” grant — is seeking its first accelerator cohort of industrial biology startups.

Founded by Houston-based First Bight Ventures, the BioWell has launched a virtual accelerator program that will provide programming, networking, mentorship, and financial resources to its inaugural cohort of 10 bioindustrial startups. The selected companies will also have access to specialized pilot bioproduction infrastructure throughout the nine-month program.

“BioWell equips startups with more than just capital. We provide a foundation for breakthrough innovations by combining access to cutting-edge bioproduction facilities with expertise that nurtures scalability. This comprehensive support is crucial for transforming pioneering ideas into market-ready solutions that can address pressing global challenges,” Carlos Estrada, head of venture acceleration at BioWell, says in a news release.

Applications for the program are open until May 15, and the cohort will be announced in June. Specifically, BioWell is seeking seed or pre-seed startup applicants that have a technology readiness level of 3 to 5, focusing on areas including low-cost and sustainable feedstocks, commercially viable yields, and purpose fit microbes.

“During our selection process, we'll prioritize startups that demonstrate a commitment to not only hitting milestones but also to building sustainable revenue streams for long-term survival. This phase necessitates keen awareness of market dynamics, customer demands, and sound financial management,” adds First Bight Ventures and BioWell Founder Veronica Wu.

In December, BioWell secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

Ex-Apple exec Wu founded First Bight Ventures in Houston in 2022 after relocating from Silicon Valley and seeing the region's potential for biotech.

UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Rice, UH name student startup cohorts to annual summer accelerator

ready to grow

For the 11th year, Rice University and the University of Houston have teamed up to present their summer student accelerator programs.

UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem.

“The collaboration the University of Houston has with Rice University gives founders in RED Labs and OwlSpark a unique opportunity to grow along their peers in the larger Houston community and really exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that the Houston business ecosystem is known for,” Managing Director of RED Labs Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg says in a news release. “It never fails to surprise me at the end of the summer the relationships built, the support systems created and collaborations produced across our universities. By working together, we empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to work together as they turn their visions into reality and drive positive change in the community.”

The programs conclude with the Bayou Startup Showcase on August 1, an event that's open to the public. Those interested can sign up online for more information.

“We’re celebrating more than just an 11-year partnership; we’re recognizing a dynamic alliance that has been instrumental in fostering entrepreneurship and propelling Houston to the forefront of innovation,” Managing Director of OwlSpark Jessica Fleenor adds. “This partnership exemplifies our dedication to cultivating a thriving environment where entrepreneurs can connect, grow and succeed surrounded by unparalleled resources and support. We are incredibly excited to see these new ventures grow as they join our growing network and are thrilled to host our cohorts at the Ion, positioning us at the core of our city’s vibrant innovation landscape.”

Here are the companies selected for each of the two programs, as outlined in the news release:

University of Houston RED Labs Class 12

  • Root Planters develops smart indoor plant care devices designed to prevent plant death by providing automatic watering, tailored for busy individuals and gardeners looking to maintain plant health with minimal effort.
  • Burb Groceries is an online grocery retailer for people with chronic health conditions.
  • That Dude’s Bakehouse offers premium, half-pound cookies, combining choice ingredients and craftsmanship with the mission of being the best part of somebody’s day
  • Mulligan Bandit aims to redefine golf fashion, offering affordable yet high-quality clothing that seamlessly transitions from the fairway to the streets, reflecting personal style while ensuring durability and comfort.
  • Surreal Vision offers immersive mixed reality solutions that provide dynamic visualization experiences to enhance design collaboration and client presentations.
  • Agave Catering is a catering company focused on providing high-quality, gourmet boxed lunches for professionals on the go.
  • Digitally Marie is a purposeful creative agency dedicated to reducing the opportunity gap for female entrepreneurs. Through our heart-driven approach, we elevate content production embodying their brand perception with unapologetic authenticity.
  • Unison is a personal contact relationship management tool that alleviates the risk of data loss and helps to build more meaningful professional and personal relationships.
  • Brain-eNet is a platform that provides hardware and software tools to enable the development of brain-controlled Internet of Things applications.
  • Pasha Blend Collection specializes in creating modern skincare products that embodies purity, authenticity and inclusivity.
  • Arresting Motion is a brand strategy design consultancy and marketing agency that transforms Houston’s top real estate firms into the brands they deserve.
  • CalliDanna is a consulting company that coaches girls 12 to 18 to help improve their lives professionally and personally.

Rice University OwlSpark Class 12

  • EcoFleet Solutions offers rechargeable electric power units for semitrucks, powering air conditioning and cabin functions during stops without engine idling, cutting fuel costs, maintenance and emissions.
  • Houston Community Print Shop offers printmaking classes and equipment access, focusing on community building and supporting underserved areas.
  • KOQ Agency curates and organizes global tours and live entertainment opportunities for queer and ally artists in drag, music and entertainment.
  • Euvivo Diagnostics is developing a direct-to-consumer test that analyzes cell aging by examining mitochondrial performance and new aging markers, tailored for individuals with mitochondrial disorders.
  • Hair Hub provides a compilation of styling tutorials, educational content, planning tools and a comprehensive database of products tailored for Black hair to provide resources for users to perform cost-efficient DIY haircare.
  • xMAD.ai is a compression-as-a-service platform that democratizes access to LLMs (Large Language Models) by making them faster, more private, cost-effective and accessible to businesses of all sizes.
Global organization gener8tor, along with Downtown Launchpad, started its ninth gBETA Houston cohort last month. Photo via Getty Images

Early-stage accelerator names 9th Houston cohort

ready to grow

For the ninth time, gBETA is incubating five early-stage Houston startups providing innovative solutions across skincare, human resources, and more.

Global organization gener8tor, along with Downtown Launchpad, started its ninth gBETA Houston cohort last month. The free seven-week, no-equity accelerator program selected five Houston-based founders to provide helpful programming, support, and connections to mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

"We're thrilled to continue fostering innovation in Houston and are thankful for our collaboration with Downtown Launchpad as we launch the ninth cohort of gBETA Houston,” says Vanessa Huerta, vice president of gBETA at gener8tor, in a statement.

The program has accelerated 40 Houston companies since its launch in Houston a few years ago. The companies have gone on to raise over $8.6 million in funding and created more than 70 jobs.

“With each new cohort, we witness the power of innovation unleashed,” Muriel Foster, gBETA Houston director, says in the release. “The Spring 2024 gBETA Houston cohort embodies the spirit of relentless creativity and boundless ambition.”

The gBETA Houston Spring 2024 Cohort includes:

  • Cosnetix is innovating within personalized skincare, leveraging genetic and microbial skin profiling to offer users custom skincare product recommendations. The platform has been developed through over 100 customer discovery interviews and is headed for beta-testing.
  • Kannect has created an innovative community engagement platform — already used by 20 organizations — to streamline communication, foster collaboration, and enhance member engagement. The tools can be used by nonprofits, associations, religious institutions, and beyond as a digital dashboard to manage memberships, organize events, and facilitate meaningful interactions.
  • Targeting college grads and career pivoters, No Experience Jobs helps users find entry-level jobs that don’t require experience. In its first three months of launching, NoExperienceJobs.io received more than 72,000 unique monthly visitors, gained over 1,300 newsletter subscribers, generated more than 700,000 social media engagements, and is already revenue-generating.
  • The Roo App partners with bars and restaurants to connect designating drivers to those who need designated driver services. The company is currently operation on a web-based platform with over 1,500 current visitors, but plans to launch the mobile application later this year.
  • Yuyo.love is changing the fitness game by providing bilingual fitness classes ranging from yoga, pilates, dance, fitness, nutrition, and meditation. The company's hybrid classes have over 150 participants per class and plans to launch the platform this quarter.
TMCi named its 2024 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics cohort.

TMC names 2024 cohort of cancer treatment innovators

ready to grow

For the fourth year, Texas Medical Center Innovation has named its annual cohort of Texas health tech innovators working on promising cancer therapeutics.

TMCi named its 2024 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics cohort last week, and the 23 Texas researchers and companies selected will undergo a nine-month program that will provide them with mentorship and programming, as well as open doors to potential investors and strategic partners.

“The ACT program provides a bridge to commercialization in Texas by surrounding innovators with strategic mentorship, milestone development, and a network of resources to move their projects forward,” Emily Reiser, associate director of TMC Innovation, says in a news release. "We are excited to welcome this year's cohort and to continue enabling participants to advance their solutions to treat cancer."

The program has accelerated 76 researchers and companies to date, many of which — like March Biosciences and Mongoose Bio — have gone on to secure $130 million in funding from venture capitalists and grant funding.

“Our program has cultivated a dynamic ecosystem where partners, researchers, and inventors, who have been part of the journey since its inception and received various forms of funding, continue to propel their life-saving products and technologies forward," Ahmed AlRawi, program manager of ACT, says in the release. "Our 2024 cohort represents our most diverse cohort to date, including eight companies led by women entrepreneurs. Additionally, we are particularly proud that the cohort includes a blend of new and recurring organizations that have leveraged this opportunity in the past to extend their work and continue the momentum to build off the successes of our previous years.”

The 2024 participants are:

  • Alexandre Reuben of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Betty Kim & Jiang Wen of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Bin He of Houston Methodist
  • Daniel Kiss & John Cooke of PeakRNA at Houston Methodist
  • Hongjun Liang of Texas Tech-Lubbock
  • Jacob Goell & Isaac Hilton of Mercator Biosciences at Rice University
  • Jay Hartenbach & Matthew Halpert of Diakonos Oncology Corp.
  • Kathryn O’Donnell of UT-Southwestern
  • Maralice Conacci Sorrell of UT-Southwestern
  • Neeraj Saini of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Neil Thapar of Barricade Therapeutics Corp.
  • Nina Keshavarzi of Celine Biotechnologies
  • Raphael G. Ognar & Henri Bayle of NKILT Therapeutics Inc.
  • Richard Austin & Michael Abrahamson of Reglagene Inc.
  • Tim Peterson & Joppe Nieuwenhuis of Bioio Inc.
  • Todd Aguilera & Eslam Elghonaimy of UT-Southwestern
  • Venkata Lokesh Battula of Siddhi Therapeutics Inc. at UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Weei-Chin Lin & Fang-Tsyr Lin of Baylor College of Medicine
  • Yong Li & Dongxiao Feng of Sotla Therapeutics at Baylor College of Medicine
  • Anil Sood & Zhiqiang An of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Narendra Kumar & Jayshree Mishra of Texas A&M-College Station
  • Tao Wang of NightStar Biotechnologies Inc. at UT-Southwestern
  • Jian Hu of UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
SeisWave specializes in cost-effective, cloud-based seismic data processing. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy startup joins Texas-based climate accelerator

ready to grow

An Austin-based climate accelerator announced its 2023 cohort, which includes a Houston cleantech startup.

StudioX named seven startups to its 2023 cohort, and SeisWave Corp., a seismic service company, will join the program that aims to help the world reach net-zero targets by 2050. The group comprises Studio X's third cohort since the company launched in 2020.

SeisWave specializes in cost-effective, cloud-based seismic data processing.

Other companies in the cohort include:

  • AI Technology & Systems: A NASA iTech company that provides compressed AI models and software
  • Austere Environmental: An environmental remediation solution that extracts chemical contaminants in soil, drill cuttings, and tailings
  • Economical Energy: A long-duration energy storage solution company
  • Flexergy: A developing highly efficient hydrogen gas compression, storage and distribution system
  • Onvol: An IoT power solutions tech company with applications in wind energy, transport, and mining
  • Project Geminae: A Midland, Texas-based AI-powered portfolio optimization platform advancing predictive modeling across industries

The companies will participate in a 16-week program and mentorship through the cohort, along with investment opportunities.

“Our accelerator program helps to close that gap through bringing together an engaged community that grows these companies at a faster rate, ultimately driving innovation, and helping to evolve global energy solutions,” Jeff Allyn, CEO of Studio X, says in a statement.

Studio X is fully-owned and incubated by Shell and aims to "break down the silos of traditional R&D," according to its website. Click here to view some of the accelerator's past participants.

The company will host an Accelerator Showcase Event Friday, Nov. 10, where companies will pitch their concepts and offer a Q&A session. Register here.

Another Shell-backed accelerator announced its cohort earlier this week. In partnership with Greentown Labs, the organizations announced the cohort for Greentown Go Make 2023, which aims to accelerate partnerships between startups and corporations to advance carbon utilization, storage, and traceability solutions. The cohort includes six companies from around the world, from the Netherlands and Canada to Massachusetts and Washington state.

Additionally, The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will launch in Houston next year to help advance clean tech jobs. According to Accenture and Goodwill, which are partners in the accelerator, said it plans to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.